Frames of scientific evidence: How journalists represent the (un)certainty of molecular medicine in science television programs

Georg Ruhrmann, Lars Guenther, Sabrina Heike Kessler, Jutta Milde

For laypeople, media coverage of science on television is a gateway to scientific issues. Defining scientific evidence is central to the field of science, but there are still questions if news coverage of science represents scientific research findings as certain or uncertain. The framing approach is a suitable framework to classify different media representations; it is applied here to investigate the frames of scientific evidence in film clips (n = 207) taken from science television programs. Molecular medicine is the domain of interest for this analysis, due to its high proportion of uncertain and conflicting research findings and risks. The results indicate that television clips vary in their coverage of scientific evidence of molecular medicine. Four frames were found: Scientific Uncertainty and Controversy, Scientifically Certain Data, Everyday Medical Risks, and Conflicting Scientific Evidence. They differ in their way of framing scientific evidence and risks of molecular medicine.



The Bio:Fiction film festival: Sensing how a debate about synthetic biology might evolve

Markus Schmidt, Angela Meyer, Amelie Cserer

Synthetic biology (SB) is a new techno-scientific field surrounded by an aura of hope, hype and fear. Currently it is difficult to predict which way the public debate – and thus the social shaping of technology – is heading. With limited hard evidence at hand, we resort to a strategy that takes into account speculative design and diegetic prototyping, accessing the Bio:Fiction science film festival, and its 52 short films from international independent filmmakers. Our first hypothesis was that these films could be used as an indicator of a public debate to come. The second hypothesis was that SB would most likely not follow the debate around genetic engineering (framing technology as conflict) as assumed by many observers. Instead, we found good evidence for two alternative comparators, namely nanotechnology (technology as progress) and information technology (technology as gadget) as stronger attractors for an upcoming public debate on SB.


“Othering” agricultural biotechnology: Slovenian media representation of agricultural biotechnology

Jožica Zajc, Karmen Erjavec

While studies on media representations of agricultural biotechnology mostly analyse media texts, this work is intended to fill a research gap with an analysis of journalistic interpretations of media representations. The purpose of this project was to determine how news media represent agricultural biotechnology and how journalists interpret their own representations. A content and critical discourse analysis of news texts published in the Slovenian media over two years and in-depth interviews with their authors were conducted. News texts results suggest that most of the news posts were “othering” biotechnology and biotechnologists: biotechnology as a science and individual scientists are represented as “they,” who are socially irresponsible, ignorant, arrogant, and “our” enemies who produce unnatural processes and work for biotechnology companies, whose greed is destroying people, animals, and the environment. Most journalists consider these representations to be objective because they have published the biotechnologists’ opinions, despite their own negative attitudes towards biotechnology.


Representing the Public in Public Engagement: The Case of the 2008 UK Stem Cell Dialogue

Alison Mohr, Sujatha Raman

Efforts to engage the public in science take many forms, yet in many cases, “engagement” is a means toward acceptance rather than true participation. In 2008, the largest ever public engagement (PE) exercise sponsored by UK Research Councils was held. The Stem Cell Dialogue (SCD), designed to identify the range of views and concerns amongst the wider public about stem cell research, was jointly supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC), and Sciencewise. The SCD revealed high levels of public support for stem cell science and technology, according to the official press release, and thus seems to validate the traditional reasons offered for conducting PE around cutting-edge science: that engaging the wider public in dialogue at an early stage can help scientists communicate the motivations for their research, including its expected societal benefits, assuage potential ethical concerns, avert damaging controversies, and secure public acceptance. But, is this instrumental rationale—engagement toward a predetermined goal—sufficient? Can it offer the democratic legitimacy that underlies the recent turn to this type of “upstream” engagement? And does the SCD as it actually unfolded merit the summary finding of public support reported in the press release? In this paper, we draw from our work as official evaluators of the SCD, and recent debates on the purpose of engagement, to ask: how should we understand the “public” in PE; why is PE important for both society and science; and what lessons should we take from actual PE exercises?